Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Another contrast that I think illustrates well the flavour of life in Maputo today. In Khongolote, a newly-sprung up settlement on the outskirts of Maputo, the TV News showed the body of a young man, stripped to the waist, lying face down amidst the maize stalks by the side of the main road. He had tried to steal a woman's cellphone but she had managed to shout for help. The locals caught him and simply beat him to death. The police, or any other representative of state power, had still not come to even look at the body by the time the camera crews arrived the next morning. When they interviewed some locals, a young housewife put the situation very clearly:
"Every week, people are attacked by gangs here who rob their cellphones and money. There are no lights here, so at night when people get off the bus and walk home they are easy targets. The gangs beat them and hack them with machetes. The police never come." She then indicated the body with a flick of her eyes, and you could quite understand why she had no sympathy for the ex-mugger. Behind her, people went about their daily business as usual, passing the body without so much as a glance.
The first elements of contrast are that: people are poor, but they CAN afford cellphones. They are now so cheap and ubiquitous that even people living here have them. As well as this, the TV crews can arrive on the scene within hours of the incident, with high-quality cameras, and have the freedom to interview the locals. 10 years ago this would not have been permitted. Finally, the TV crews arrived but the police didn't. They weren't there to stop the crime, nor did they come to clean up after it. And remember, all this is on the outskirts of the capital, within reach of a tarmac road!.

Right here is the contrast: the same weekend, we went to an open-air concert by a famous Mozambican guitarist, Jimmy Dludlu. It was held in the grounds of a swimming pool which sits just outside the boundary of Maputo City proper, with a temporary stage. The thing is, the fields outside the gig were PACKED with cars. Normally, they are just an abandoned wasteground but that night it was full of shiny 4x4s and not-so-shiny bangers. Also swarming with police - beat cops and traffic goats (goats because they eat so many bribes). So a concert for middle-class up-and-comers gets heavy state protection - mainly because half the audience are the sons of the elite.

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